The purpose of this feature is to introduce  poets who are not known to the  many newcomers of haiku and to give praise to these haiku poets who have often been over- looked or underrated by the establishment so that they will not become forgotten. It is hoped that this monthly column will also serve as an instructional and inspirational guide to currently emerging future writers. 

Many people who have become interested and got started writing haiku, my- self included, were attract- ed first to translations of the Japanese Haiku Masters such as Basho, Buson, Issa, Shiki, etc. Most people read the haiku of these Japanese Masters before being introduced to the haiku of English haiku poets. The big presses are partly to blame, but now that we have the Internet, people have greater options than they have ever had before. English haiku now has about 35 or 40 solid years of history and development. The old masters of Japan, from the Basho period to the post-Shiki era, are interesting and enjoyable to read and study (if the translations are good); but it does require quite a bit of knowledge, understanding, and study of Japanese (and Chinese) history, culture, religion, etc. to fully and properly appreciate many of these tiny poems. Volumes of commentaries and critical studies have been written in Japanese, English, French, German, Dutch, Romanian, Spanish and other languages. This process was pretty much
necessary 20 or 30 years ago when North American haiku was experiencing its
growing pains, trying to come into its own, hoping to someday gain its own freedom and independence. 

That day has now finally arrived! There are English haiku masters  who have not been included in major haiku anthologies or have not had a collection of haiku that has been widely
read. Some had collections of haiku that were very poorly distributed, being read only by a few for per- haps a year or two and then were quickly forgotten. There are now hundreds and hundreds of haiku chapbooks and mini-chapbooks that have been published, but most get read by only a small percentage of the total haiku community. Most haiku poets submit regularly to the various haiku publications, but most of these haiku enthusiasts only subscribe to two or three or four at a time. Back-issues are not high in demand and issues of haiku magazines that have been discontinued are very difficult to obtain. The result is that many haiku poets' works get scattered about in the haiku magazines and mini- chapbooks over time, thus readers never really get a true overview of the haiku poet's best work over the years. Most of the haiku publications do a pretty good job though of re- printing haiku, contained in articles written by haiku poets who have been a- round for a number of years, thus a few "haiku classics" are saved from disappearing into oblivion. That of course is the primary function of a haiku anthology - to preserve the best that has been written over the years. Unfortunately, this is a nearly impossible task! There is not enough publication space avail- able, so naturally politics comes into play and some extremely deserving people get left out while some lesser deserving people get in. People who have just started developing themselves in the art of haiku composition should stop buying the Japanese haiku translations (for a little while) and start buying collections of haiku written by living  haiku poets. 


Lorraine Ellis Harr

Lorraine Ellis Harr was an important figure in the history of American haiku. She lived in Portland, Oregon, where for almost four decades she worked tirelessly to promote the understanding of the haiku form and to encourage the reading and writing of haiku in English through the publication of a quarterly journal, Dragonfly, the organization, Western World Haiku Society and the fifteen books of her own poems in all the Japanese genres .

Opal Lorraine Ellis Harr was born on Halloween, October 31, 1912. Her father left the family when she was three years old. The mother and three girls (Lorraine is the youngest) moved to Cooperstown, North Dekota to live for several years before moving to Portland. Her mother had a sister that lived out west. The sister's husband promised Lorraine's mother a job if they moved to Portland. When they arrived they discovered there was no job. Her mother had $20 to her name. She had tailoring experience and found work at a cleaners. After high school Lorraine also worked for the cleaners before getting married. She had two sons, Lynn (1935) and Gary (1939). After several years of being a widow she married again. This she declared later was a drastic mistake. That marriage ended in divorce. In the 50s she was diagnosed with melanoma on one leg and was told she had 3-6 months to live. Around this time she met Carl Harr through a mutual interest in Scientology. Carl was about 25 years younger than Lorraine, but he continued to ask for her hand in marriage until she said, "Yes." They were married in 1958, and had a happy marriage until Carl's death in 1994.

Lorraine Ellis Harr began writing haiku in 1963, and in 1964 she was the winner of the Japan’s Airline Haiku Contest. Lorraine once revealed in an interview that she often wrote over one hundred haiku in day.

In 1972, she founded the Western World Haiku Society. Though not the first English-language
haiku society in America (that honor would go to the Writers Roundtable of Los Altos, under the direction of Helen Stiles Chenoweth), the Western World Haiku Society and the San Jose Yuki Teikei Haiku Society were the first ones to become international in membership and outreach. Lorraine worked closely with many influential Japanese poets and formed lasting friendships with a wide circle of poets. Many haiku writers answered in a poll done in 1985 that either their first haiku was published by Lorraine, or that it was from her influence and instruction that they had learned about haiku.

Harr organized its contests and edited both its newsletter and six anthologies of Western World Haiku
Society Annual Contest Award Winners
. She led haiku workshops and lectured on haiku at venues throughout the Portland area, working closely with such organizations as the Japan America Society of Oregon and the Portland Japanese Garden.

Harr also published articles about haiku in newspapers, literary and educational journals, and other haiku magazines. Always interested in developing the best ways to teach English-language haiku, Harr focused many of her educational articles on the pedagogical issues of teaching haiku in American classrooms. In 1972,
she took over the editorship of Haiku Highlights from Jean Calkins and renamed the journal Dragonfly: A Quarterly of Haiku and published it from 1972 to 1984. (Jean Calkins, however, never stopped publishing her magazine Haiku Highlights and has continued publishing on a limited basis until just this year.)

As an early and well-respected American haiku journal, Dragonfly established Harr's reputation as an editor with her sincere interest in circulating only the best examples of English-language haiku. Due to her identification with the magazine Dragonfly, some Japanese poets began to call her "Tombo" – Japanese for dragonfly. Later, then she adopted the name for herself and for the Tombo Haiku Group which Lorraine founded in Portland as a way to mentor new haiku poets and to support poets who had been studying with her for many years.

Through her writing, editing, lecturing, and teaching, as well as through her voluminous correspondence with poets around the world, Harr encouraged a traditional approach to haiku. Clearly seen in her critical writings such as "The Isn'ts of Haiku," "Haiku: The Playful Phrase," and "Guidelines to Haiku Writing," Harr emphasized an approach that is grounded in the Japanese history of the genre so that her readers would not perpetuate the "misconception that haiku is a little poem of 5-7-5 syllables all about nature that has caused
our textbooks to be riddled with much misinformation."

In her own poetry, Lorraine used a wide range of season words (kigo, in Japanese) and often wrote seventeen-syllable haiku that break evenly in lines of 5-7-5 respectively. Nevertheless, Harr was also interested in a certain degree of experimentation achieved by testing the limits of traditional haiku. In some instances she
experimented with the formal qualities of the poems. For example, she was one of the first poets to work with one-line haiku, publishing a collection of them in her book, Sundowners. In other instances, she experimented with arrangements and themes. In Pathways of the Dragonfly: Seventy/Sevens, she published seventy haiku sequences, each containing seven haiku. In the book Tombo she presented a collection of 226 haiku about dragonflies. In fact, most of Harr's book-length haiku collections tended to work with a single theme or group
of themes.

Harr published fifteen books of poetry, most of which are collections of haiku; however, in addition to writing haiku, Harr also wrote senryu, linked verse, tanka, haibun, free-verse poetry, cinquains, and children's
literature. Her second-last book, Walls of Silence, was a collection of tanka written in memory of her husband, Carl Harr. And her most recent book, Under the Roan Cliffs (2005), co-written with Brad Wolthers, presents renga focusing mostly on nature and cowboy-related themes.

Lorraine Ellis Harr died at 9:45 p.m. on Friday, March 3, 2006 in Portland, Oregon. She was 93 years old.

Books by Lorraine Ellis Harr

Cats, Crows, Frogs, and Scarecrows
China Sojourn
A Flight of Herons
Modern Narrow Roads to Matsushima
Pathways of the Dragonfly: Seventy/Sevens
Poems for Peter K.
Poems for Sarah J.
The Red Barn
Ripe Papaya and Orange Slices
Selected Senryu of LEH
Snowflakes in the Wind
Under the Roan Cliffs
Walls of Silence


Selected Haiku by Lorraine Ellis Harr/Tombo

No other sound--
just Spring rain dripping
through wisteria

Spring moon;
ferns uncurling between
the river rocks.

Under the window
all night long, lovesick cat's
amorous yowling.

Tide pools;
Under this rock too is something
that crawls away.

Running from the sun
shadows of the shore bird's legs
. . . lengthening

This midday heat!
The dry nets hang stiff
smelling of fish.

how to explain
the ways it looks--dragonfly
on Queen Anne's Lace

Redwing blackbird--
one short shrill cry of alarm
rattles the cattails

Autumn sunrise;
At the edge of the birch woods
clumps of goldenrod

Here in the garden
mending the patched old scarecrow
. . . another season

In a note from Tom Noyes he identified this haiku as his favorite.


The sparkler goes out
and with it - the face
of the child.

Thanks to Martha Haldeman (Lorraine’s daughter-in-law), Ellen Olinger, and Ce Rosenow for help with this information.


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  Column Copyright ©Jane Reichhold 2006.
Page Copyright © AHA Books 2006.

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